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5 Questions with Gerry McGovern

First published September 25, 2003

I had the opportunity to query Gerry McGovern, widely acknowledged web content guru, on some knowledge management and e-learning issues that were bothering me. Here is the short Q&A session I had with him. Gerry's two books, Web Content Style Guide and Content Critical, are required reading for anyone interested in creating user-centered content. His website has tons of information on web content design. While your 're there, check out his popular New Thinking newsletter too.

1) Making knowledge management work seems to elude many, where do you think the problems lie?

Gerry: The area is still fuzzy and lacks definition. I read a definition of a knowledge worker recently which said that you're one if your boss doesn't know what exactly you do and you don't know either. I think there's so much sloppy thinking around the area. So much that is vague. Many knowledge workers feel that they are so special they can't be measured; that each one of them must do things their own unique way. Well, that's all great fun, but it does very little for business. Basically, we need to focus more on management of knowledge.

2) Knowledge sharing and quality of content -- there seems to be a proportional correlation here, but then David Weinberger would argue on the "importance of writing badly". What's your take on this?

Gerry: What David Weinberger writes about is all well and good if you've lots of time. Personally, I have zero interest in reading people who just shoot off emails. I'm not interested in someone's deeply held inarticulate beliefs. I'm interested in their considered opinion on a subject. The very foundation of management is that it takes a considered, logical, clinical and scientific approach to problems. I think the reason so many organizations have a disdain for knowledge management is because it's full of people writing badly.

3) What's your opinion on the use of weblogs in KM and e-learning?

Gerry: Can be useful, up to a point. Let's be brutally honest here. Most people don't have very much to say. A commercial organization is not about encouraging creative writing. It's about making profit. Where is the time coming from to write all these weblogs? Could it be used more productively in other areas?

4) "Boring" is the most common adjective used to describe e-learning courses. Do you think the omission of web writing skills in most Instructional Design curriculum has something to do with it?

Gerry: It's hard to write well. It's hard to be interesting, to be clear. Often, managers just don't recognize that investing in quality writing can deliver a much better return than allowing poor quality writing to be published.

However, e-learning shouldn't necessarily strive to be 'fun'. Work can be boring, but you get paid for it. Learning isn't a form of entertainment. It's about hard work a lot of the time. We shouldn't forget that.

5) How would you stress the importance of writing well to a budding Instructional Designer?

Gerry: I think writing is essential. E-learning is learning with content, and the key content online is words. How well you write -- how well you choose the words on the page -- will have a critical impact on how successful you are.

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